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Review: Aida by Skagit Opera

by Zoe Bronstein
Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, presented by the Skagit Opera, rings just as passionate and gorgeous as it must have done in 1871. The well-known opera is one of Verdi’s most successful tragedies, chronicling the doomed love story (as many operas tend to be) between an Egyptian soldier and an Ethiopian princess. The production is an amazing mix of historical fiction, romance, politics, betrayal, duty, and some truly epic music.
As the entire opera is in Italian, with supertitles projected over the top of the stage, some synopsis is necessary.
At the top of the show, it is shown that Aida (Corinna Quilliam), a captive princess turned slave, loves Radames (Mathew Edwardsen). Radames receives news of the Ethiopian army advancing on Egypt’s border. The enemy is led by Aida’s father Amonasro (Yuseuk Oh), to rescue his enslaved daughter. Radames uses his new pull to spare Amonasro’s life out of love for Aida, but unwittingly becomes betrothed to the Egyptian princess Amneris (Erin Murphy) in the process.
On the eve of the wedding, Amonasro, Aida, and Radames almost flee, but are caught just in time. Father and daughter escape, but Radames is tried and convicted for treason, sentenced to suffocate to death in an underground crypt. As he faces his death, he discovers that Aida has already locked herself in the same crypt, unable to live without him. The show ends on a surprisingly tranquil note, as the lovers peacefully accept their fate and are just grateful to be together at last.
Corinna Quilliam plays Aida’s inner battles with conviction as she tries to keep her royal roots a secret from her captors, and her soprano voice has a romantic, light-filled quality. Mathew Edwardsen’s strong tenor and great presence makes him a perfect choice for Egypt’s favorite soldier.
Erin Murphy’s Amneris completes the love triangle. Murphy portrays the Egyptian princess’s constant war with her own emotions, full of unrequited love for Radames and jealousy of her own slave girl while also concerned for the state of her country.
The moment Yuseuk Oh entered as Amonasro, a change came over the entire audience. His baritone has a magical, rich quality, and his confrontation scene with Quilliam is packed with tension.
General director Mitchell Kahn has assembled a cast of fine performers, leads and chorus alike, on a stark, brightly lit stage to emulate the deserts and palaces of ancient Egypt. The stage direction by Erich Parce is simple and instinctive. Bernard Kwiram conducts a large pit orchestra, producing a full, rich and romantic sound. The many stage locales are built by Ray Riches and Steve Somers, and painted by Don Smith. The period costuming has some added flair from costumers Mary MacConnaughey, Cynthia Cherney, Suzanne Kahn, Kim Somers, and Gussie and Gertie’s Costume Rental.
The strength in Skagit Opera’s Aida lies in the talent of the entire ensemble to pull off not only difficult and rousing music, but a plot that has no true antagonists. All characters act in the best interest of their own love. Whether it be romantic, familial, or patriotic, love is the main motivation of every character, highlighting the tragedy of this timeless work.
Aida runs November 7, 9, 14, and 16, at McIntyre Hall in Mt. Vernon. Friday shows begin at 7:30pm, and Sunday matinees are at 3pm. Tickets are available online at mcintyrehall.org and by phone at 360-416-7727, with prices ranging between $25 and $59. Audiences are encouraged to attend the pre-performance lecture 30 minutes prior to the show to hear about the performance, history, costumes, and more.